Kevin Hackett tries out the 3 Series successor and doesn’t want to return the keys.
Road test: 2014 BMW 435i M-Sport
There was a time, not long ago, when it looked as though BMW was forever doomed to producing cars that were so visually challenging that anyone with functioning eyes found them starting to bleed when one drove past. Chris Bangle, the man responsible for designing the stupefyingly unattractive 7 Series of 2001, made an indelible mark on the brand by wheeling out a succession of models that did our retinas a whole heap of damage but, inexplicably, set BMW’s cash registers on fire. There’s no accounting for taste.
But the one model of BMW that remained largely unscathed throughout his tenure as design chief was the evergreen 3 Series. Relatively compact and prestigious, it remained good looking, and sales managers the world over still aspired to have one allocated to them by their employers. The really sexy 3 Series was always the two-door coupé – a car that cost more and served up less practicality than its four-door sibling, but offered so much more appeal on every other level.
As you may or may not know, however, the 3 Series coupé is no more. BMW, just to confuse ageing car enthusiasts, has decided to number its cars according to the number of doors they possess. If it has four doors, its model designation will start with an odd number. If it has only two, then it’s an even number, so what was a two-door 335i is now this: the 435i. Just to further confuse my aching brain, the four-door 6 Series Gran Coupé retains its even-number nomenclature, but I’ve long since given up trying to make sense of how car manufacturers name their models these days.
Fortunately for the 435i, particularly in M-Sport guise, it could be called Matilda and it wouldn’t matter in the slightest. Because this car is, and I choose my words carefully here, one of the finest ever to wear the famed roundel on its bonnet. A bonnet, incidentally, that it shares with the current 3 Series – but there isn’t a single other shared panel.
A fine mixture of Teutonic aggression and understated elegance, the 4 Series would no doubt disgust Chris Bangle, but, for the rest of us, it will make a welcome sight on the roads as it rumbles past. Wherever you look, there’s intelligent design and delicious detailing, outside and in. Open the door and you are greeted by a cabin that is contemporary and simple, luxurious and functional. When you take a seat, the car actually hands you a seat belt – its manners are exemplary.
Everything is delightful to the touch, too. The fat-rimmed leather steering wheel, the gear shifter, the switches and buttons – they’re all blessed with a feel of utmost quality, as if they could last forever. And this is a good thing because, when you’ve spent any time at all behind that wheel, you never want to let it go.
Any BMW with a designation that ended with the numbers 35 and the letter “i” used to be fitted with a 3.5L, fuel-injected, straight-six engine, but that’s no longer the case. So now we have a 3.0L, twin-turbo, straight-six – in the 435i, that’s actually less powerful than the one fitted in the M135i. It makes no sense. That is until you drive it.
Squeezing the accelerator pedal in this car is like pouring honey. The engine’s smoothness of power delivery is something to be savoured, adding discreet yet muscular power, all channelled to the rear wheels (the correct wheels). It does so without shouting about what it’s doing, instead just getting on with the business of going places in civilised and quite rapid progress. I cannot find the words to describe just how good this car makes its driver feel.
And that feeling just gets more intense the more you drive it. You start to seek out large windows so that you can admire its reflection. You track down roundabouts way off course from your chosen route, but the way that it behaves in corners is enough to make it worth being late home for dinner. It’s perfectly balanced and reminds me of BMW’s “Ultimate Driving Machine” advertising campaign of years gone by. I want to own this car. Really want to.
But it’s not exactly cheap by anyone’s standards. The 428i starts at Dh205,000, but the M-Sport that I’ve been busy falling in love with costs Dh280,000 – and that means it has some serious competition on its hands. Competition like the exquisite Porsche Cayman, if you’re without the need for small rear seats.
The M-Sport is a bit stiffer and a bit more lively than the standard car, but despite the fact that it’s riding on run-flat tyres, it’s never uncomfortable. Its brakes are blindingly brilliant, too, as is its transmission. Its sound system is lovely, its infotainment centre easy and intuitive to use. I could go on and on and on about how brilliant this car is, but I think you get the picture. Just try it for yourself and try to hand back that key when you’ve finished.
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